With the educational, health and social costs of school and nursery closures, these should only close as a last resort, says Anne Longfield.
In a new briefing, which anticipates a second wave of Covid-19 infections, the office of the Children’s Commissioner has set out key actions for ensuring that children ‘are at the heart of planning for the future’.
The briefing reveals that the Department for Education (DfE) is one of only five Government departments not to appoint an independent expert to the role of chief scientific adviser, instead combining the role with chief analyst.
This means the department lacks its own scientific expertise on children and child health, and lacks a specialist on children’s issues. Ms Longfield is calling for the appointment of a chief scientific advisor with expertise in children’s mental and physical health, to address this.
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Nurseries and pre-schools should be the very last to close
Based on the latest scientific evidence about how Covid-19 affects children, and how much children travel outside the home, the briefing says the argument for keeping nurseries open is strongest, followed by primary schools, and then secondary schools.
But in the event of these having to close for all children except those of keyworkers and vulnerable children, the latter group should be renamed ‘priority children’ and a concerted effort must be made through the Department for Education’s Regional Education and Children’s Teams (REACTs) to work with these families to dramatically increase attendance.
The Coronavirus Act should also be amended to make it easier for local authorities to secure an EHCP for a child, while the DfE should provide new guidance to local authorities and schools on how to maintain EHCPs and proactively monitor children where support has been withdrawn.
Amid concerns that lockdown has made many thousands of babies less visible to services due to reductions in health visitor attendance and birth registrations, it is recommended that midwifery and health visitor visits should be maintained wherever possible and new guidance set out on how children’s centres can continue to operate safely.
Ms Longfield advocates keeping children’s outdoor playgrounds open – ‘Play is the way in which children exercise. Local authorities should not be instructed to close parks. If pubs can be opened then so should playgrounds’.
Read the principles and recommendations in the full briefing ‘Putting children first in future lockdowns’ here